Saturday, November 19, 2011

Somerville Artist Hope Ricciardi: Paints the Painful Past of her Ancestors

Somerville Artist Hope Ricciardi: Paints the Painful Past of her Ancestors

By Doug Holder

To know what we are, we must know where we come from. The past is often muddled, memory fails us, often familial histories are selective and leave out the painful moments. Somerville artist Hope Ricciardi addresses her ancestral past through her evocative art. Sadly, past generations of her clan were victims of the Armenian Genocide. This tragic event occurred in the early part of the last century when many Armenians were slaughtered or thrown into a diaspora by the Turks. Often this tragedy has been overshadowed by the Jewish Holocaust that was engineered by the nefarious forces of Nazi Germany. Ricciardi's art brings the Genocide in the forefront with her skillful brush, and unique sensibility.

Ricciardi, who has a space at the Joy Street Studios states on her website: " My ancestry and roots in Armenian history are the catalyst for my current work." In 2011 her exhibition "History Ignored" that dealt with her roots in Armenian history was presented at Galatea Fine Art Gallery in Boston. She works in photo transfers and plaster gesso (fluid white coating, composed of plaster of paris, chalk, gypsum, or other whiting mixed with glue, applied to smooth surfaces such as wood panels, plaster, stone, or canvas to provide the ground for tempera and oil painting ) on various surfaces including canvas, linen and panels. She has an exhibit of her work at Arsenal Center of the Arts in Watertown, Mass that will run through Jan. 2, 2011.

Ricciardi lives in Franklin, Mass and commutes to her studio in Somerville. The Joy Street Studios building is a converted factory where a diverse group of artists work. Ricciardi reflected on working in the suburbs, like Franklin as opposed to a city like Somerville: " Working in Franklin is like working in a vacuum. I once tried to exhibit some abstract nudes in the Town Hall and they wound up in some closet. I really need the artistic energy of place like Somerville to keep me going."

Ricciardi trained at the Museum School in Boston and has taught in a number of private schools. She was Dean of Admissions at the tony Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass. She left that position to devote herself to her art.

Her paintings are haunting and in many cases she uses photographs she has seen as the basis for her work. In one painting " Lost Youth," we see a long table of spectral children sitting in the midst of a surreal landscape. The painting depicts the 5,000 or so children who were orphaned and found in the desert in Turkey in 1915--victims of the Armenian Genocide.

Ricciardi who joined me for a famed scone at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square seems like a dedicated artist, who wants to recover her past and move on with a clear eye to the future.

The American Eye by Eric Hoffman

The American Eye
by Eric Hoffman
Copyright 2011 by Dos Madres Press inc.
Dos Madres Press
Loveland OH 45140
Softbound, 71 pages, no price
ISBN 978-1-933675-65-7

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Found poetry has become a favorite tool for a number of poets. Search through writings of those who not always closely associate with poetry and find in their prose something
akin to poetry and use as poetry. The next best thing is to find someone’s writing and make them into your own poetry.

Eric Hoffman has succeeded admirably with this book in which Hoffman lends his voice and vision to both Ralph Waldo Emerson and his godson William James. In the first set
of poems, “Emerson in Europe,” we find him looking at he ocean, thinking back:

My eye is American.
Like a chemist assembling substances
I bring myself to sea
In search of affinities –

The bubble –
By its birthright – expands –
& my American eye
Is like a child’s again

Later, in Malta, Hoffman envisions Emerson’s view of native women, adding a touch of humanity to his otherwise staid image as a man of the cloth, man of Victorian sensibilities:

A few beautiful faces in the dancing crowd
& a beautiful face is worth going far to see

That which is finest in beauty is moral
& the attraction of a long descended maiden

Is a sort of wild virtue, wild & fragrant
As the violets that surprise the mind
Meeting divinity amidst flowers and trifles

The initial section of the book, therefore, deals with not only Hoffman’s interpretations
of Emerson’s journals, but his poetic view of the emotional Emerson. We also see
Italy through words culled from Emerson’s writings and transposed into the poetic. For example:

In the Sistine Chapel
To see the Pope
Bless his palms
& hear his choir
Chaunt the passion

The second part of the book is entitles “The Vast Practical Engine” in which Hoffman presents various thoughts on philosophy of our innermost self:

what are the physics
of violence? or

are we the embodiment
of need, our tenderness

merely an apparition

to appetite’s defeat?

“There is no certainty,
only those who are certain”

that the heart is small

that the world
cradles and destroys

that the triumph of breathing
and buries

In another poem (10.) we find:

nothing is so precise
as imagination
but what demon

hides in the most
precise equations
what infinitesimally

small loss occurs
at that invisible edge
maps the distance

between the mind of God
and the limits of
absolute reason

There is nothing new in Hoffman’s inventions of past writings, however, what he has accomplished is a deep reading of many concepts, the poetry more philosophical and cobbled into ideas that will make readers think twice, go back to the book to discover new ideas, theories, philosophies and changes which he has superbly succeeded in conveying.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bards,Bagels and Co-Existence

I never thought of this when Harris Gardner and I started the Bagel Bards at Finagle- A- Bagel in Harvard Square in 2004. But I happened to be teaching a Creative Writing class at Endicott College and we were studying the poetry of San Francisco poet A.D. Winans. In an interview I conducted with him (that I used for a class discussion) he mentioned a hangout of his: the Co-Existence Bagel Shop. Bagels, Bards and poetry do have an illustrious history. The Co-Existence Bagel Shop in the 1950's and 60's North Beach section of San Francisco was a big hangout for the likes of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kaufman, Spicer, Winans, and countless other Beat poets, and poets of other schools. So the Bagel Bards, a group of poets and writers that now meets in the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, Somerville, Mass (Finagle-A Bagel closed years ago)is a sort of a small coda to this...

Here is a description from a Beat travel guide I found:

"Continue along to 1398 Grant Avenue which is Stop 10. This is the former site of the Co-Existence Bagel shop where a delicatessen "collided" with a beer-joint-hangout and news center. It was immortalized by Bob Kaufman in Bagel Shop Jazz who describing its regulars as "shadow people, blueberry-eyed girls in black stockings, smelling vaguely of mint jelly, turtle neck angel guys, coffee-faced ivy Leaguers..."

Review of THE HALLELUJAH OF LISTENING by Preston H. Hood

Review of THE HALLELUJAH OF LISTENING by Preston H. Hood, Cervena Barva Press, PO Box 440357, W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222,, 59 pages, $7, 2011

Review by Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES

Preston H. Hood’s writing is in a rolling rhythmic voice. Some of his images are powerful, while others are plain and every day. Is he the American Every Man veteran soldier? In some ways yes, but in other ways I doubt it. He has some very strange lines such as in “Opening in the Sky”: “Before the dead crawl out I stitch it up/with the white line of my thinking…” Or, in “Hazy Light”: “For too long you hoarded/two dollar bills of nothing/like the no-light forest/triple canopy of grief…”

Sometimes he loves his grandson or some woman, we assume. But there’s little about human relationships. There’s more about the voices of nature and the ghosts of veterans past. In “To Shadow” he writes “To shadow go the wounded & scarred, each/of their kills smeared in blood…Gone to shadow the cawing crows flapping/with the walking dead/those/dark wings of war.”

In “First Born” he concludes, he’s “dropped from the shared womb of his mother’s drinking/incubated three months/time shafts through him, down-pointing/what’s next/the rain/fog/purification of lather sky…go back/listen/know the fear of his deepest self/talk to it like it’s him, which it is/find what’s lost.”

But what he claims he’ll most remember are his experiences in the Viet Nam War, such as he writes in “Boats Near Hue”: “A sail luffs & I imagine these men, their boats,/bobbing on the South China Sea, Dark clouds shoulder into a gathering storm/Shift of wind, push of boat./One false move might trigger a mine.”

Hood was born in Fall River, MA and grew up in Swansea, MA. He served in Viet Nam with Seal Team2 (1970). He has a BA from UMass-Boston, a BS from the University of Southern, Maine, and an ME from the University of Maine, Orono. After attending the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences for nine years, he co-edited “Summer Home Review” with Jacqueline Loring and Gary Rafferty. He’s currently a retired teacher and administrator

Monday, November 14, 2011

Choir of Day: New and Selected Poems By Robert K. Johnson

Choir of Day: New and Selected Poems

By Robert K. Johnson

ISBN: 978-0-979-5313-3-0

Ibbetson Street Press


Review by Dennis Daly

If you like taut moments, touching scenes and wings of sunlight, these tempered yet beautifully written poems are for you. In a Morning to Remember Johnson takes a very ordinary Norman Rockwell-like slice of life memory and injects it with devastating future- knowledge. He describes the arrival and sing-song Halloo of a little boy outside his kitchen door, who

Holds up his ball and mitt—

ready to play catch—

the week before he drowned.

In My View of a New England Autumn, the poet relates the deaths of both his parents with a graphic realism very unlike the details of the gorgeous deepening blaze of his present autumn, “dying/ a few leaves at a time,”

My father waved back to me

as I left his hospital room;

and, a minute later, gasped

in pain and died.

He describes his mother as steadily looking worse until,

while I bent over her bed,

her eyes hardened

like blue water turning to ice.

After portraying his nine year old first-born son making his way through the ordinary world of delivering newspapers and bike riding in his poem, While Driving, the poet loses himself in an instinctual, yet touching moment when he celebrates,

And my brain and pumping blood—

Every part of me says,

That’s my son. My son.

In the poem, Our Daughter’s First Time Away From Home, there is another deceptively simple scene, in which the poet’s daughter discovers a little gesture,

… when we start to drive

away, an impulse leads you

to discover what it feels like

to blow someone a kiss.

In The Speck the winged protests of a fly unable to breech the seasonal impediments are compared to the vain protests of a poet trying to make straight-line sense out of the world’s circularity,

And though, unlike the fly,

I have a mind and it tells me

“In vain,” I—too—protest: despite

the chills of age, I keep

circling—in these straight lines I write.

Choir of Day is filled with sunlight, much of it falling on wings. In The Lecture the poet juxtaposes the techniques of teaching poetry with an actual moment of inspiration,

… And, glancing outside, you see

the sunlight splash a swooping bluejay’s wings

gold-bright… and know no word your students heard

roused what, in you, that flash of sunlight stirred.

In Parvane, a haunting poem, the moment of knowledge comes with winged sunlight this way:

and you will see a distant bird

gliding with sunlight on its wings

across a shining field

where the tip of a tree’s low branch

waits for the bird to alight.

The poem Lover’s Words starts off this way:

Each gliding gull that tips sunlight

across its tilting wings will die

and so will love. …

For Johnson love seems to be yet another poetic moment or time or inspiration only more so. Therefore true love, like poetry’s moment, is fleeting, does not survive death, and possibly not even our life spans, since whenever the gods decree,

the love we share will be as dead

as flowers frozen by an early frost

Johnson’s Choir of Day is chock-full of troubling, touching poems like these and well worth the read.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ralph Pennel: From the Twin Cities to the Paris of New England

Ralph Pennel: From the Twin Cities to the Paris of New England

By Doug Holder

Poet and writer Ralph Pennel met me in the comforting confines of the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square, Somerville to talk about the writing life. Pennel has moved from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Somerville, Mass. He lives in the hinterlands of our town, where the Spanish eatery Dali looks across the street to the Wine Cask. Pennel reflected on the differences of the Midwest to that of New England:

“Everything in the Midwest is laid out in a grid—I find the winding and at times irrationally plotted streets in Somerville give it a looser or open vibe. There is a rigidity to the Midwest that I am not comfortable with. The writing community in Somerville is very welcoming. It seems the writing that happens in Minnesota stays in Minnesota—it doesn’t seem to leak out to the greater literary world.”

Pennel views himself equally as a poet and a writer. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University, and has taught on the college level for a number of years.

While in Minnesota, he founded with a few other folks, an online literary magazine titled The Midway Journal, coined after a section of Minneapolis that he resided in. He told me the journal publishes work that pushes boundaries— and accepts work in the genres of poetry and flash fiction. The current issue has work from noted local writer Timothy Gager, and past issues have had such Boston area wordsmiths as Steve Almond, Tara Masih and Alden Jones.

For Pennel a poem gets it start with an idea that sparks his agile mind, and then hopefully flames into a working poem.

Pennel most assuredly lives the writer’s life. He resides in a small, inexpensive apartment and edits his journal and teaches an online course or two. He also hits the open mics around town including Stone Soup in the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge, Mass., and Somerville’s First and Last Word Reading Series held at the Arts Armory.

Pennel is planting roots in the community, and where there are roots, hopefully poetry flowers.


“After me comes one more powerful than I . . . I baptize you with water,

but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” -Mark 1:7-8

You see these garments? I made them.

With these hands. See here? This is the very place

I cut myself on the blade of my knife.

See how it has healed, how the flesh

has closed itself again, grown together, pink and new?

And this belt. I tanned it from the same beast.

She brought me to within sight of these city walls.

Then collapsed. I held her head in my lap,

stroking her neck until the sun set low,

and the night was filled with fire. It is true

what they say about the death of the day.

My soul, too, will rise above the parting sun soon enough.

No doubt you will be the one to set it free.

Ah, these hands. They have touched his head. His hair

filled my palms, slipped over and through my fingers,

until my hands were hidden, as if they, too, grew peaceably from his skin.

He said nothing when I lowered him into the river, his body weightless.

I was afraid I’d lose him to the current, his body swept downstream.

What would come of me then? I swear, when he stood, the water swimming

down his face and plunking into the river around him like fingers

on a harp, the day gave way to night, the sun smeared across

the edge of the earth, then raced across the sky in rivers of light.

I understand I am to lose my head. Will you grant me this then,

that I might wash my face and hair? And would you also share

what I have told you? Not now. But after Herodias has slipped her fingers

through my mane and lifted my bodiless head above her own,

into the light, my blood dripping to the floor, the shadow of night

drifting calmly over everything.